Just over a year ago, Tureano Johnson was an obscure middleweight from the Bahamas who had only appeared in one eight-round fight. Flash forward to the spring of 2015 and Johnson (18-1, 13 KOs) finds himself right in the mix for a 160-lb. title shot. With a fan-friendly style and a desire to take on all-comers, Johnson has seen his notoriety in the sport increase rapidly. Under consideration for Gennady Golovkin's next title defense, Johnson was passed over in favor of Willie Monroe. However, Johnson remains undeterred in his quest to be a champion and he continues to seek out the biggest fights in the division.
Saturday Night Boxing recently talked with Johnson in a wide-ranging interview. Among the topics covered was Johnson's colorful and varied amateur career, including training in Cuba for five years and representing his country in the 2008 Olympics; recovering from the first loss of his career against Curtis Stevens; how the Bible helped form Johnson's ring identity; why he's upset with Miguel Cotto and whom he would like to fight next.
Interview by Adam Abramowitz:
The Interview has been condensed and edited.
I wanted to start out with how you originally got into boxing in the Bahamas. What brought you to picking up the gloves for the first time?
I was coming home from school one day and I was going to my grandmother’s house. My uncle is Ray Minus Sr. He was also a professional boxer in the Bahamas and a great fighter. He found the world champion Elisha Obed. It was Ray Minus Sr. who introduced me to the boxing game but it was me who was persistent about the sport. He saw that I had a passion for it.
During your amateur career, at what point did you know that you could compete on the world-level?
It was really Ray Minus Jr., Ray Minus Sr.’s son [Minus Jr. challenged for a world title three times]. He became my coach later on in my amateur career, before I trained in Cuba. I was at the Silver Gloves in Florida and I had won all of my fights there. From there, we travelled throughout the Americas, such as Guatemala, Venezuela and so on, and we had a lot of success with that.
You trained in Cuba for five years during your amateur days. How did that opportunity come to you?
Training and living among the best boxers in the world, it was thrilling. At the 2003 CABA Games [the annual tournament held by the Caribbean Amateur Boxing Association], I was named the best boxer. In fact, I won eight gold medals at the CABA Games and was named best boxer five times. Peter Nygard was there in 2003 [Nygard is the chairman of Nygard International, a fashion house]. He was originally from Finland, raised in Canada but lives in the Bahamas. He is very involved with the Bahamian amateur program. He thought it was worth it for me to train in Cuba with some of the world’s best boxers. He sent me to Cuba to live and train with them.
I saw that you fought Diego Chaves a couple of times in the amateurs. What do you remember about those fights?
Wow! Those were great fights! I fought him once at the Pan American Games and the other one in the Olympic trials. He beat me at the Pan American Games. I wasn’t feeling well in my training session and I was having a lot of personal issues going on at that time. But then I put my head together and I went to the Olympic qualifiers in Guatemala. I qualified beating the Pan American Games gold medalist, Pedro Lima, and the bronze medalist, Diego Chavez, who is a very good fighter. Chaves gave me a good run for my money that fight but I was victorious.
In 2008 you became the third boxer from the Bahamas to represent your country in the Olympics. Putting boxing aside for a moment, what was the Olympic experience like for you. What was it like living in the Olympic village?
2008 Beijing Olympics. What a country! What a beautiful moment to be there! Everyone in China was very nice to me and I was grateful for that opportunity. It was the best thing that I’ve ever been to, Beijing, China.
After the Olympics, what was the process like for you turning pro? Did you have a promoter or a manager in place?
We had people trying to get me into the professional ring but I didn’t really feel it. And I waited until a year later. I turned pro in 2009 rather than after the Olympics in 2008.
It was a very difficult task. The guys who were trying to give me an opportunity the first time were no longer open. I’ll tell kids out there right now: if the opportunity comes, you take it. Look at that Bulgarian fighter who fought Floyd Mayweather in the Olympics [Serafim Todorov]. Now he regrets that he did not turn pro. I’m appreciative of everything that I have but I would have taken it sooner had I known how difficult it would be as a professional fighter.
Your first four professional fights were in the southeast in the U.S. How did you start fighting there?
Well I was contacted by a few managers out of Atlanta. These guys showed me a dream and they made it happen. They were great for me. They accommodated me in many ways. But now I’ve moved on. The end was bittersweet. Atlanta was good to me but now I’m in Ft. Lauderdale, which is one of the best places for boxing. But I’m appreciative of everything that they did for me.
After four fights, you had a layoff for 17 months, what was happening to you during that time?
As I said previously – the bittersweet moment – that was the bittersweet moment. It’s a hard business. I became very hesitant because I didn’t know what was going on. I had a promoter who seemed to be having problems with managers. And it created a big conflict and my managers turned against me at that time. It was a bit of a stress for them and a bit of a stress for me.
But my current team, they were the guys who have helped me through it. They got me out of the situation I was in. They brought me back into the ring on very short notice. But hey, that’s what you want to do. I’ll fight anybody right now. I get into the ring. I’m prepared. A professional fighter should always be ready but now I have that consistency of training.
Tell us a little about Team Johnson right now. Who are instrumental in preparing you, training you and guiding your career?
My manager is Victor Wainstein. Antonio Betancourt is my coach in Florida. Kayla Johnson, who is my older sister, is also a coach for me here in the Bahamas. We’re doing a good job of figuring out who to fight next and how to fight an opponent. Right now, we’re looking at everyone, everyone in the Top-15. My manager Victor Wainstein is phenomenal when it comes to begging promoters for me to fight their fighters. I think he’s doing a great job and I have to take my hat off to him. Victor’s really going out there and getting other promoters to get me fights on their cards.
The first fight of yours that really caught my attention was your matchup against Willie Fortune in 2013. He was another undefeated prospect and it was a big step up for you with the fight being aired on Showtime. What was the game plan for you there?
I’m an exciting fighter. I went in there and I beat him up. I’m not there to throw jabs. I mean I have it if I really need it but I didn’t need it. I went in there and I beat the guy up. We knew from the outset of the fight, we were there to take it. We weren’t there to go rounds, we were there to just fight.
Now that a year has passed since your controversial stoppage loss to Curtis Stevens, and I was there that night in Philadelphia, what are your thoughts on that fight?
It was not the first time that I had an unjust decision laid upon me. In the Olympics I won the first two preliminary fights. Come the third fight, I fought the hometown guy [Hanati Silamu]. And there was very unfair scoring there.
I know now that I’m fighting guys in their backyard. I’m fighting in my opponent’s hometown. But now when I’m going to fight an opponent, I’m going to hit him with a devastating punch. I’m going to knock him out, get the TKO or just beat him up badly. And that’s how I’m going to have to do it, just go in there to beat you up, real convincingly.
After that loss, did you approach your fight with Mike Gavronski a little differently or did you just do what you normally do.
That fight I went in there and I did what I usually do.
About Curtis Stevens, I’m going to have to find a way to get it done. Perhaps find a way to not be so, so aggressive but still be myself in the ring. That fight was a total rip-off…but I’m back and I’ll fight the way I’m good at, with my dominant nature. I’m pressing, using my natural ability and coming forward.
I notice in the ring that you feel very comfortable fighting either orthodox or as a southpaw. How did you develop that style?
It was my dad. My dad is a religious guy. He’s a Christian man. One of the chapters in the bible in the Book of Kings says that you should be able to shoot arrows with both hands. And my dad has always been fascinated by that. He made me catch balls with both hands, write with my unnatural hand. He made me do a lot of things with both hands and I became very comfortable with that. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love fighting as a southpaw. I definitely use that from time to time.
Another thing that I think is very interesting about you is that you’ve had over 300 amateur fights but you fight in a style that would be much different than the "quote-unquote" typical “amateur” style. How did you learn the finer points of in-fighting, body-punching, working during clinches – all the things that are often less emphasized during the amateurs?
That’s an interesting question to ask. I go back to Cuba, the Cuban school of boxing. I grew up fighting the Cuban fighters. Most Cuban fighters know how to close distance. They can do that inside flurry without the jab. In Cuba, my coach taught me how to get inside without using the jab. And it was the hardest thing to teach this kid the jab. I want to get around you. I want to hit you. I want to blow something up. I don’t really need the jab. Yes, it works sometimes but my coach realized that about me. He taught me how do damage without throwing the jab. That’s part of the Cuban school of boxing.
I know that boxers are always trying to improve. What are some things you are presently working on in the gym?
We want to finish fighters. Sometimes I hit fighters and I don’t realize that they are hurt. I’ve watched videos of fighters leaning on my shoulders after I hit them and I don’t realize that. It’s too late. So we’re working on finishing my opponents, with more power than I’ve had before.
As far as jabbing, it’s not something I’m focusing on but we still work on it every day. Someday I may need to run around a bit. Who knows? Maybe I’ll fight an opponent where I need to do that. But right now, we’re working on finishing an opponent.
In your last fight, your scored two knockdowns and got a stoppage win over Alex Theran. How do you assess your performance from that fight?
It was not one of my greatest performances. I say that without a shadow of doubt. And this is a fact. I wasn’t really warmed up going into that ring. We didn’t really know when we were going into the ring. Once I came into the ring, I did my stretches and all that stuff. By the third round, I was just getting warmed up. But then he went down and soon the fight was over. I didn’t even know it. I couldn’t believe it. It was such a shame. He gave up [Theran didn't answer the bell for the sixth round].
Well, he took a lot of punishment.
I don’t know. If you’re a fighter, you’re there to win it, regardless of what happens in the ring. If you want it that bad, you got to get it. I think he could have done better.
I noticed that at your last fight both the Bahamian Minster of Sports and the Minister of Tourism were there. How are you received in the Bahamas when you go back and how did you form those relationships with the people in the top levels of government?
The Bahamas is a small country, just a little more than 300,000 in population. It’s a small nation, with 700 islands and keys. And the people, they’re coming out to my fights more and more. The people receive me well. They show their appreciation.
As you remember, we did have a world champion [Elisha Obed] who fought at the highest levels of professional boxing, the highest level of achievement we have ever had in the Bahamas. I hope to get to that level. I must say it [the support] benefits when you’re from a small country and I’ve benefitted a lot.
From where you were a year ago, before the fight with Stevens, to where you are now, it’s been quite a transformation in your boxing career. How would you describe this last year?
I really must say that [promoter] Gary Shaw, my manager, Victor Wainstein, and my coaches are doing great jobs. These guys are steering me in a direction that I never thought would happen so quick. They’re putting me in place to be a world champion. Right now, I think I’m a world champion but without the hardware around my waist. My coaches know this. Gary Shaw, he made it happen. Victor Wainstein, he came up with a good plan.
And it’s such a short period of time. Look how far they’ve taken me in just under 20 fights. They’re talking a world title. And that’s a huge accomplishment in my career thus far.
You’ve called out Jorge Sebastian Heiland, David Lemieux and a number of guys. Are there particular people you’d like to fight or whatever comes your way? What’s next in your agenda?
I want to be a world champion and I will focus on fighting world champions. Right now, any title. It’s only fair for me to fight Miguel Cotto but it’s clear to me that he’s not interested in fighting right now. Golovkin would be a great fight too…I don’t understand why Cotto has an international title but he doesn’t want to fight!
Bring me the days when champions fight champions. Give the fans what they deserve. Mayweather and Pacquiao is the fight the fans want, two world champions. And Cotto, that’s absurd! A world champion fighter should be fighting a world champion-caliber opponent. Right now, I’d like to fight Golovkin or Miguel Cotto but I know that neither one of them will give me the fight. Cotto’s probably going to fight some natural 150-lb, fighter. Let’s see a competitive fight. Give the champion a champion-style fight. And the fans want the same thing.
I know that a lot of fight fans would feel encouraged by your opinion on this.
I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again that I’m Tureano Johnson and I bring the fight with me. Fans get tired of being ripped off. Let the champions fight champions. And let me fight a real fight.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org